Thus spake T.S. Eliot in 1942 on the purifying prospects afforded by a new year. Or as B. Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas spake in 1927, "Honey, just allow me one more chance ...." Pretty much the same thing.
Most cultures, sooner or later, come up with a New Year type holiday, and the theme always seems to revolve around making a fresh start. Implicit in that yearning is the tacit admission that all we really did in the year just passed was pretty much screw things up, and we would dearly love a chance to take a serious stab at getting it right this time.
According to W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973), most of our species are doomed to just bumbling through our daily lives. In "September 1, 1939" he describes us as, "Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night, Who have never been happy or good."
Not necessarily a guy you'd want to spend New Year's Eve partying with. But he's right about human resolve. People get a second chance every morning when they get out of bed. And most of us rarely get through a single day with our good intentions intact, despite out best, um, intentions.
Auden, same poem, puts it this way: "Into the ethical life, The dense commuters come, Repeating their morning vow; 'I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work.'" And then go through it all again next morning. Rinse, lather, repeat.
According to Harris Interactive, a Rochester, NY research firm, 66% of us have at one time made New Year Resolutions, but only 17% actually keep them throughout the New Year.
Auden offers some hope. "Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light, Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages." He falls back on the hope that even if he can't get it right, he can at least continue to hope for the chance. And maybe that's enough. Lights at the end of the tunnel.
Auden's poetic predecessor, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) didn't even see the lights. The last three lines of his poem "Under Ben Bulben," written at the far end of his life and a poem reasonably optimistic about the progress of man through association with legends and the arts, read thusly: "Cast a cold eye, On life on Death, Horseman pass by."
Yeats directed (right within the lines of the poem itself) that those three lines be the epitaph etched on his tombstone. He died in the south of France, but they gave him his way. They dragged his body back to Ireland, and you can see his grave today, cum epitaph, in Drumcliffe Churchyard, in the shadow of Benbulbin. (It's a mountain in County Sligo.)
These are our poets, our dreamers? And in their brighter, more optimistic moments? Good intentions about good intentions. And for what? For the promise of repetitive failure. Take all the second chances you want.
Thomas Hood, yet another of our literary cousins from the British Isles, put a slightly different spin on the subject. He thought it was largely a matter of luck, and he may have been onto something.